Lightbox Film Center draws on a rich 40-year history as a regional resource for cinephiles. Initially known as The Neighborhood Film/Video Project, the program was established by Linda Blackaby in the 1970s and was housed in International House of Philadelphia starting in 1979. As the city’s first cinema to focus exclusively on independent and international films, The Neighborhood Film/Video Project played an important role in advancing local access to emerging filmmakers and engaging audiences around social, cultural and political issues.
In 1992, International House launched the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema, the first major regional film event of its kind. In the late-’90s, the program underwent a period of transition and reemerged with a renewed focus on year-round film programming and an expanded scope of moving image presentation that included experimental film and video works, artist cinema, digital art and other emerging forms. In 2008, the theater was renovated and in 2012, a Barco 2K digital cinema projector was installed, ensuring industry standard digital compatibility alongside increasingly rare capabilities for 16mm and 35mm projection. In 2017, the program was renamed Lightbox Film Center to create more visibility and better position itself for the next era of moving-image presentation. After announcing the intention to sell the building, International House facilitated the transfer of Lightbox Film Center to The University of the Arts where it continues film programming at 401 South Broad Street beginning in 2020.
During its four decades Lightbox Film Center has hosted leading filmmakers and artists, including Albert Maysles, Michael Snow, Richard Kern, Jonas Mekas, Ousmane Sembène, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Downey Sr., Phil Niblock, Derek Boshier, Sam Green, Tony Conrad, Lizzie Borden, Richard Hell, Babette Mangolte, Harry Shearer and many others. Sun Ra and his Arkestra once performed on the roof of the building and Buckminster Fuller also occupied an office inside.
October - November 1974: The first International Cinema film series takes place at IHP.
March 31, 1978: A leader of the New German Cinema movement, filmmaker Wim Wenders’ films The Wrong Move, Kings of the Road, and Alice in the Cities are screened in a special presentation with film programmer/historian/professor Amos Vogel.
July 1, 1979: The Neighborhood Film Project and International House Philadelphia officially merge. IHP provides office, storage, and exhibition space for the NFP, who bring the entirety of their increasingly-renowned programs to Hopkinson Hall.
1979: The Philadelphia Independent Film Video Association (PIVFA) was founded as part of the NFP. PIFVA was a local resource group that encouraged film and video-makers and offered shared resources, experience, and networking. It was a program at IHP until 1998. In 2002, the program was started again and became a non-profit organization, hosted in an office at the Scribe Video Center.
1981: The Neighborhood Film Project is renamed, becoming the Neighborhood Film/Video Project.
March 19, 1986: The first Festival of Independents (originally known as the Philadelphia Independents Showcase) is held at IHP. The Festival of Independents was created to showcase film and video works by local and regional filmmakers, and later was included as a sidebar in the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema.
1989: The NFVP launches the impressive exhibition Latin American Visions. Bringing together essential, classic, and rarely-seen films from Central and South America, the 80-program exhibition includes a 59-page catalog that was widely read and distributed. The NFVP also created new prints of five films previously unavailable in the US. These prints are now part of the MOMA Circulating Film Library.
1992: The NFVP organizes the first Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema (PFWC). Forty films were screened, some at other venues including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Free Library. At this time, the NFVP has 13 staff members and 11 University of Pennsylvania work-study students working on the programs.
1997: Following the departure of Linda Blackaby, the NFVP moniker is retired. The film program is now organized under the name International House Arts Center.
2001: TLA Entertainment assumes management of the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema, which IHP previously founded and administered. International House would remain a venue for the festival (renamed the Philadelphia Film Festival in 2003) for many years. Ultimately the film program undergoes a reset back to its original programming aesthetic and structure.
September 19, 2008: Following a new renovation with a major gift donated by S. A. and Nina Ibrahim, Hopkinson Hall is renamed the Ibrahim Theater. A new, retractable seating system is the main upgrade of the renovation. The grand opening screening is John Cassavetes’ Faces (1968), shown in a new 35mm restored print.
February 2012: A new, state of the art Barco 2K digital cinema projector is installed in The Ibrahim Theater, providing high quality HD digital projection, and the first step toward the new industry-standard digital projection compatibility.
May 2017: Film at International House is renamed Lightbox Film Center
January 2020: Lightbox Film Center becomes part of The University of the Arts